Monitoring the level of particulates in the air inside the home can be a life-saver for people with health issues. A new personal air pollution monitor promises a more precise alternative, empowering users to take measures to mitigate and eliminate those tiny particles. Developed at Carnegie Mellon University Robotics Institute, Speck was presented at the SXSW Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas, that took place between March 13 and 17.

Speck can reportedly detect unhealthy levels of particulates more precisely than other products, thanks to the use of machine learning algorithms. According to Prof. Illah Nourbakhsh, these programs can recognize and make up for interference noise in sensor signals at a low cost. This way, the device provides a high level of data regarding the user’s exposure to tiny particulates which can lodge in the lungs and aggravate heart and lung diseases.

Enabled with Wi-Fi, it allows the data to be uploaded to a database managed by the user. It can also be integrated with other monitoring devices such as Fitbit and Jawbone.

A dedicated, free website stores the data and provides analytical tools, including the ability to cross reference home data with readings from federal air monitoring stations. Additionally, anyone can use the website to obtain official information on their zip code area about the latest and historical air quality readings.

Once the user has access to the information, they can take measures to reduce exposure such as opening or closing windows, altering activities and using HEPA air filters.

Speck is already being used in Pittsburgh, where it is manufactured. Three hundred units are being used in the homes of people who suffer from asthma as well as by citizen groups monitoring emissions from coke oven batteries and natural gas production.

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill branch also has 10 Specks for loan as part of a batch of 1,000 bought by the Heinz Endowments and Pittsburgh Foundation, to be made available through public libraries, schools and citizen groups in the region.

Speck is additionally being utilized by the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project. It's using about 115 Specks to investigate the health effects associated with natural gas drilling by looking into complaints from residents near the drilling site. This is done with the installation of the monitors at each residence for one to three months, followed by data analysis.

Nourbakhsh and his team developed Speck at his Create Lab over the last four years and are marketing it through a spin-off company called Airviz. The product is already on sale online for US$200.

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